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UBC Theses and Dissertations

"Where’s Mom?" : the meanings of fetal alcohol syndrome Northey, Tracy Anne


Since it was first described in the medical literature in 1968, Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (FAS) has become recognized as the leading cause of preventable birth defects in Canada. As a diagnostic category, FAS refers to the teratogenic affects of alcohol which result in facial anomalies, growth deficiencies, and central nervous system dysfunction. The portrayals of FAS in the mass media, and elsewhere in the popular realm, indicate that FAS does not simply exist as a diagnostic category. Persons with FAS seem to be portrayed as tragedies and social deviants who place an economic burden on society. The mothers who give birth to children born with FAS are seen as irresponsible and in need of surveillance. Troubled by what the author perceived as oppressive representations of persons with FAS and their biological mothers, the present study set-out to investigate the portrayal of mothers in popular and professional discourse about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Semi-structured interviews, clinical observations, and an analysis of educational material and information in the mass media, were the tools of inquiry used to uncover what is said about FAS and mothers in the professional realms of medicine and social services, and in the popular realms of the mass media, educational material and the internet. Regarding and analyzing FAS as discourse reveals the multiple and contested meanings that are associated with that term. A number of processes and discourses interact to produce a shroud over mothers of children with FAS. Systems problems within the medical and social service sectors, the ambivalence surrounding FAS as a diagnostic category, and ideologies and values attached to the fetus, to mothers, and to alcohol all contribute to an eclipsing of mothers within the discourse of FAS.

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